With a price tag that would cause even the wealthiest music executives to wince, the aptly named ‘Utopia‘ headphones, engineered by French audio company, Focal, have certainly made a name for themselves.
Priced at $5500, the headphones are certainly turning a few heads as music fans and professionals alike ask the same question: “Are they worth it?”
Well, we at Lost At E Minor got our hands on a pair of the luxury cans and we’ve spent a few days putting them to the test.
Unlike other headphones that fill their frames up with heavier metals to create the illusion of quality, the Utopia Focal are built with a carbon fibre frame and are super light as a result.
So far they sound like a great pair of headphones, but they haven’t quite earnt that $5500 price tag just yet. Enter the not-so-secret ingredient; beryllium.
Beryllium is a brittle, stiff and low-density metal with an extraordinarily fast sound conduction speed. This makes it an absolutely awesome material for high-frequency speaker drivers (Focal actually reckon it has the best attributes of any material).
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, beryllium is as rare as it is expensive, hence that infamous price. Utopia is one of the only headphones in the world to use a pure beryllium dome speaker driver.
Okay, this is what we’re all here for, this is what apparently justifies that price tag. The unparalleled sound quality that Focal call “striking in terms of realism, neutrality, dynamics and clarity, for sound with unrivalled purity”.
So do they live up to all the hype to my feeble, untrained ears? Yes. Yes they do.
It sounds cliche, but honestly, many of my favourite songs sound entirely different through the Utopia. There are layers of depth I could hear in songs that I’ve listened to hundreds of times before and never picked up on.
I discovered a newfound appreciation for songs I had previously dismissed. In Michael Jackson’s Beat It I could hear musical motifs and sounds I was previously oblivious to.
The balance of the sound quality was incredible, by which I mean they were not just bass-heavy wearable subwoofers like other expensive headphones tend to be. Everything I listened to simply sounded perfect, as authentic and balanced as it could be.
Something that became very clear very early on was the fact that these headphones were designed for high end listening or studio use. The price alone should let you know that these are not the headphones to wear on your morning commute.
Focal make this very clear before we could even plug them in, they have a 6.35 mm Neutrik jack, designed for professional equipment, rather than the 3.5mm jack compatible with laptops and phones.
These headphones are also not designed for digital listening. It’s something we all know, but never really take notice of, digital music files are compressed, a hollow shell of the real deal. Well, listening to digital music through something as nuanced as the Utopia makes this very clear.
I initially listened to music straight through Spotify, but as the platform streams their music through the highly compressed Ogg Vorbis format, the headphones were not even close to their potential.
Listening to “flac” files remedied this significantly, as they are larger files with more detail. The range of sound was striking, and I found myself taking the headphones off from time to time, as the sound appeared to fill the entire room, and I doubted such dynamic detail could be produced so locally.
I have little doubt that with authentic professional equipment, the headphones would continue to amaze.
So, am I about to jump online and fork out $5500 for a pair these incredible headphones for myself? Of course not. I’ll put my money towards something more practical, and keep using my newsagent-bought earphones, but with an air of sadness about me.
I’ve been to Narnia now, and nothing I listen to will ever sound quite as good.
Even without listening to them through professional equipment, they are without a doubt the best sounding headphones I have ever worn, but for a casual listener like myself, they are simply not worth the gargantuan price tag.
If you, however, take your sound very seriously, and have a spare five-and-a-half grand lying around, you should probably head right over here and buy some.